Cambridge Diarist: Regrets

by Martin Peretz | April 22, 2002

The 1929 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to U.S. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg. And why not? The year before, he had persuaded the great powers to outlaw war. Among those that ratified the historic Kellogg-Briand pact were the democratic countries, plus Germany, Japan, and Italy. High-minded people, deluded that signed agreements shaped history, were delirious with joy. Barely a decade later, of course, most of the world was plunged into war. Did the committee that chose the prize's recipients have any second thoughts? After all, the very complaisance that the Norwegians honored surely encouraged the Axis to believe that the democracies would stand by as threats mounted. I know of no record that the committee expressed any regrets.

I had a sinking feeling when the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yasir Arafat in the immediate aftermath of the Oslo accords and the handshake on the White House lawn. After all, Arafat's sole vocation in life was that of a terrorist, and, even if there were some sparse signs that he was ready to give up the murder of innocents, the choice was still morally unconscionable. As for Rabin and Peres, tough-minded men beguiled by both Arafat and their own lifelong yearning for peace, they immediately attended to their obligations under the agreement--even transferring weapons to the militias of what they knew would be an emergent Palestinian state. Arafat, of course, immediately set about blowing Oslo up, a mission he completed at Camp David and Taba in late 2000. And now, with the peace agreement for which they gave the awards in tatters, the Nobel trustees do have regrets. Not, amazingly, about Arafat--but about Peres. According to the BBC, "Members of the Norwegian committee that awards the annual Nobel Peace Prize have launched an unprecedented verbal assault on Israeli Foreign Minister and Nobel Peace Laureate Shimon Peres," saying "they regretted that Mr. Peres' prize could not be recalled.... One member said Mr. Peres had not lived up to the ideals expressed when he accepted the prize." Poor Peres. He still, to this day, retains all the Oslo illusions that Arafat has trashed. But that is not enough for anti-Israel, anti-Jewish Europe and not enough for the guardians of the prize, which will itself soon look like trash.

The headquarters of anti-Semitic Europe today, just as during the Third Republic, is Paris. Every day brings news of another violent crime against French Jews and Jewish institutions, a wave of violence that most of the French oppose, but which the government of Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin has tolerated, even indulged, for far too long. Paris is also the headquarters of anti-American Europe. The latest expression of French anti-Americanism--aside from books claiming that the United States blew up the World Trade Center itself--is concern for the life of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen and, according to the Justice Department, the would-be twentieth September 11 skyjacker. The U.S. government has charged him with six counts of conspiracy and will request the death penalty, which France abolished in 1981. The prospect of citoyen Moussaoui's execution has driven official Paris apoplectic. Yet the French are not exactly evenhanded in their hostility to capital punishment. After all, what have they said about the execution of suspected "conspirators" by France's ally, the Palestinian Authority? Last week, with the complicity of Arafat's regime, eleven supposed collaborators with Israel were murdered, their bodies dragged through the streets. A few days ago, six other such "collaborators" were sentenced to death by a quickie P.A. tribunal. But not a word has been heard from the enlightened anti-death penalty French, who seem to think that only the United States and Israel kill.

You will doubtless remember the schadenfreude with which many in the American media greeted the "I won't go" to the territories declaration signed six weeks ago by some 300 Israeli reserve officers. This hint of resistance was viewed in both the United States and Israel as big trouble for Prime Minister Sharon's get-tough policy toward Palestinian terror. But why doesn't the media now note that draft resistance has practically evaporated since the seder massacre. Even Gideon Levy, a tiresome apologist for the Palestinians who writes for Ha'aretz, admitted in his April 7 column that "nearly 30,000 men were mobilized and they reported for duty as one man, making the refusal movement ... irrelevant." In fact, 5,000 Israelis who hadn't been summoned have actually volunteered. One signatory to the "I won't go" declaration, a son of friends and a beloved friend himself, confided to us that he would now go if called because his differences with the government's present policy are political rather than moral. The struggle against terror has now become what Levy himself calls "the people's war." It is a "people's war" because almost all Israelis now recognize that this struggle is not about the settlements or the occupation but about Israel itself, about their very homes and homeland.

In the 1930s an old teacher of mine, Max Lerner, wrote an essay called "Freedom in the Opinion Industries," making the then-heretical point that freedom of the press was the freedom of the capitalists who owned it. I don't think this is any longer the case. The media corporations are now quite varied, and liberal orthodoxies predominate in many of them. In his essay, Lerner proposed a remedy for capitalist domination of radio: "Two major airways reserved for the government and run for it not by its bureaucrats but by the guild of radio artists." Lerner got half his wish: We have one such network, and its audio incarnation is called National Public Radio (NPR). So, whose freedom does NPR represent? Certainly not the public's. Rather, NPR is the virtual property of a bevy of journalists responsible only to themselves and their orthodoxies--orthodoxies far more stringent than those imposed by the corporate networks. In fact, I don't know of a capitalist-run radio network that has a blacklist. But NPR has one, and the anti-terror expert Steven Emerson is on it--NPR confided as much to an Arab lobby in 1998. Emerson's sin (and my own as well, I believe--for I am not welcome either) has been writing and speaking for years about Arab and Muslim terror support networks in the United States. This greatly offended Loren Jenkins, NPR's foreign editor, some of whose more inventive fabrications I discussed in my February 11, 2002, Cambridge Diarist, "Foresight." But why should Emerson's intense interest in terrorism, and especially in Osama bin Laden, so rankle Jenkins? Perhaps because on August 27, 1998, Jenkins himself wrote an article about bin Laden in Salon.com. In it he ridiculed the Clinton administration's charges that bin Laden was responsible for terrorist acts against the United States and was planning more. These were mostly based, Jenkins alleges, on "bin Laden's own braggadocio and the bad company he apparently keeps.... [H]e seems to be more of a spiritual leader and financier than the sort of terrorist mastermind being alleged." Ah, the wisdom of the men who control access to our public airwaves. Perhaps NPR should arrange a special broadcast from Norway.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/world/cambridge-diarist-regrets